Physically, it was brutal. Culturally, it became beautiful.
Consider that the legacy of this milestone match, in which Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, a boxing hero out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, took on Salvador “The Invincible Eagle” Sanchez, the pride of Tianguistenco, Mexico, in a battle broadcast on closed-circuit TV to all of America and numerous Latin American countries.
At the Caesars betting windows, Gomez was the overwhelming favorite with a winning streak of 32 fights – all of them knockouts – against the lesser-known Sanchez, who nonetheless was defending his WBS world featherweight crown. Cue the pre-fight trash talk, in which Gomez hammered home his prediction that he’d dispatch Sanchez with an early K.O. Instead …
Felled by Sanchez a mere 40 seconds into round one, and despite rallying here and there, Gomez never found a consistent groove. With Gomez’s right eye swelling by the third round and reportedly being nearly blinded by the eighth round – while Mexican fans shouted “Ole!” with every flurry of Sanchez blows – referee Carlos Padilla halted the match, giving Sanchez a technical knockout victory.
That was the brutal part. Here’s the beautiful part:
Though he was the surprise victor from Mexico, Sanchez endeared himself to many in Puerto Rico, granting interviews to Puerto Rican news stations and praising the region – so much so that both Mexico and Puerto Rico mourned when Sanchez was killed in a car crash a year after his victory, at age 23.
In a poetic twist, Puerto Rican Gomez became a favorite among Mexican fans by sending flowers after Sanchez’s death and frequently visiting his family. And in his most heartwarming gesture, Gomez, now age 61, returns to Sanchez’s hometown every year for a festival held in the late pugilist’s memory, where Gomez has been named “gran mariscal” three times – and a guest of honor 33 times. Today, these giants of the ring are forever linked by their induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Sanchez and Gomez combined for a tale of sharp jabs and devastating uppercuts that evolved into a testament of mutual respect and lasting affection. One that was born in Las Vegas.